If you’ve ever been in the presence of someone who is angry or even furious, you know how hard it can be to respond in a helpful way, non-triggering way. Most people aren’t well-equipped to deal with such intense emotions. Dealing with an angry person can be difficult, scary, and confusing for people who are uncomfortable with anger, rage, and other variations of this destructive intensity.
As someone who has worked through his own repressed rage and anger from CPTSD, I’ve learned to befriend and re-direct my own anger. It’s also gifted me the skill of loving the anger of others, and fully encouraging its expression, even when it’s directed at me.
So, I’d like to provide some tips on what to do when in the presence of anger:
# 1.) Shut up about yourself. You don’t matter. Anger doesn’t care about your feelings. Don’t even say “I can empathize”, because while you may THINK you’re connecting, you’re not really FEELING the connection. Anger will see right through you. It sees that you’re just making it about yourself while acting magnanimous in order to mollify the situation. Don’t say, “That reminds me of this one time…” because you’re not being present, and you’re making it about yourself again. The only time you should use the word “I” in a sentence is, “I’ve got bail money and an alibi for you if ya wanna go fuck shit up right now”. Which ties in to the next point…
# 2.) Meet anger where it’s at. If anger is pissed off about something, validate it even if you disagree. The best thing you can do is match anger’s perspective and intensity to support its full expression. You don’t have to be destructive, but being able to connect with emotional resonance is key.
# 3.) Don’t say, “Calm down”. Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down. Telling an angry person to “calm down” is an attempt to suppress and shame anger as if it were somehow wrong to feel it. Moreover, you’re making it about how you don’t feel safe, which makes it about you again (remember #1 above?). If it doesn’t feel like a safe place to be in order to process anger, say something like, “Fuck this place. This place sucks. Let’s go to __(insert better place here)__ and __(insert incentive here)__. This isn’t worth it.” Learn to redirect the intensity instead of trying to beat it down.
# 4.) Use dark humor occasionally to transmute the intensity through laughter. If this doesn’t come naturally, don’t do it because it’ll feel contrived. Being able to say something dark, disturbing, and emotionally resonant helps create a bond of safety by conveying mutual suffering. If you’re looking for a reference point, watch stand up comedy like Bill Hicks – “Relentless” & “Revelations”, Doug Stanhope – “No Refunds”, or Bill Burr – “Let It Go”, “You People Are All the Same”, and “Why Do I Do This”. This is Jedi-level, and must be used surgically. Used improperly, it will come off as diverting, disconnected, and obnoxious.
# 5.) If the anger is directed towards you, don’t be defensive or confrontational (unless you’re being hurt, abused, or in danger, obviously). Just have a little bit of humility and acknowledge that you can be a piece of shit (because, let’s face it, EVERYONE- including you- can be, despite how you try to convince everyone else on social media that you’re a flawless person). Say you’re sorry for hurting them, you’re working on yourself, you’re grateful for their feedback, and that they deserve better. If the anger is directed towards something you feel attached to, like an ideology, release your identification from it and find the validity from their perspective. You’ll be able to revisit things from a calm, rational place later. We all say things out of anger. Just let it be for now.
# 6.) If you’re afraid of anger, that’s fine. Not everybody can feel safe and self-capable in the presence of unpredictable intensity. Chances are you have issues with embracing your own anger. If you want to become more “emotionally resourced” in handling anger, start with tapping in to your own righteous anger which seeks to overcome injustice. Vent your feelings about it, move your body while doing it, and let yourself go in to the scary yet powerful places within yourself. You’ll find a deep reservoir of strength and assuredness in this kind of anger which is very empowering. Once you’re comfortable with the intensity here, you can better embrace other forms of subjective, ego-centric anger and confrontation without feeling shaky. Taking self-defense classes can also help tremendously in feeling capable and resilient.
In closing, keep in mind that anger is a defense mechanism which unconsciously protects underlying fear, pain, and sadness. Anger arises because it doesn’t feel safe to be vulnerable enough to express the underlying emotions. When we embrace anger to let it be known that it is seen, welcomed, and has its rightful place, it can begin to feel safe and drop the armor. Then the real healing can begin.